Canada · COVID-19 · Faith · Family

Good Surprises

“Oh great,” I thought, “More bad news to pass on to my already discouraged family.”

 It was a couple weeks into November 2020. I waited most of the day, dreading the thought of telling them that more restrictions were being made… once again. Upon hearing the news of schools being shut down again, my son burst into tears of frustration: “It’s like the month of bad surprises!” 

The thing is, he wasn’t wrong.

There were so many disappointments and we were all having an extremely difficult time navigating all of it. Our grandmother had died. Our family of seven had all gotten COVID-19. Schools were closed. Life was once again grinding to a halt. We were all stuck at home all the time. And this had just been the past month! Hadn’t we tried again and again to “make the best of it?” 

There was just nothing to look forward to anymore.

So many thoughts ran through my mind. I was tempted to wallow in my grief, but I’d been in that pit of depression before, a place so dark that life seems to fade into a black and white blur. It is in this desperate place that I called out to God: “Father, I need a plan to lift my family out of this. Please, give me the gift of creativity; ideas to bring joy to our family. I need something that will brighten our cold, dark winter nights, so that next few months aren’t just filled with disappointments for my kids.”

What about a month of good surprises?

The idea took root and began to grow.

Yes! That was it! We could, within the walls of our own home, create an atmosphere of anticipation each day of the month, with a new surprise to look forward to every evening. Sort of like a twist on the typical advent calendar, it would be a bit of work on my part, but, with proper planning I knew we could pull it off!

Now I was excited. As fast as I could, I grabbed my day planner and made a rough sketch of the month:

There were games nights, worship nights, and nights to “get out” and drive around, looking at Christmas lights or simply blessing others. There were activities for me (like ice cream sundae night) and some purely for the kids (games in the dark and “make up our own recipes” …as I shudder… SO. MUCH. SUGAR.)

By the time I had finished filling in the calendar, I was grinning from ear to ear. It was, in many ways, so simple – but I knew it would brighten our evenings. Here’s a list of a few of the “good surprises” our family enjoyed at home:

25 Good Surprises

1. We had a create our own recipes competition. Everyone in the family grabbed ingredients to make a small portion of their own creative treat! The evening ended with us rating each other’s creation on a scale of 1 – 10. First of all, my oldest son created the funniest recipe. He called it “Dr. D” – I’ll leave the ingredients to your imagination. (And not to brag or anything… but I won 😁)

2. Grabbing bags of popcorn, we got in the van for a tour of Christmas lights. Complete with Christmas dubstep music. It was a blast! Except for vacuuming up the popcorn from the backseats later on… not so fun.

3. One night we pulled out old home videos and watched them together. We had many laughs and my heart nearly burst when I watched the cute videos from their toddler years. So adorable! 🥰 Then each person wrote a note to a grandparent, thanking them for some of the fun memories we’ve had with them. (This ended up being one of my favourite evenings!)

4. Family games in the dark night. There’s nothing like running full speed into the wall as you get chased in the dark. These nights are sure to get everyone excited. If you’re like our family and like some added intensity, put on a soundtrack from Lord of the Rings and bingo, you’ll have kids so terrified that no one will want to venture into the basement. “Sardines” and “No Bears Out Tonight” are our favorite!

5. Skating on our backyard rink has been a highlight this winter. Our family is seven total, so we don’t make an even split for a team… almost makes me wish we had just one more… 😉Thawing our feet in the hot tub afterwards completed the fun.

6. We skipped a few days of school to go sledding at a hill nearby. Sometimes it was just us, but sometimes we met up with friends. The fresh air did us well.

7. Family worship night! Dad grabs a guitar, Isaiah a drum, Bella plays the piano and we sang our hearts out. There’s nothing quite like worship to lift a discouraged soul.

8. Christmas Coloring contest. Print out a Christmas picture to color and everyone colors their absolute best! Then we each pick our top two favourites and the one with the most votes win (Dad won this one!)

9. Family card or board game night. (Our current favorites are Dixit, Wizard, Jenga and Settlers of Catan)

10. A day in the wilderness with friends. Okay, this one creeped me out a bit. We were in the bush, in the middle of nowhere, off trail and our kids were running every where. It was a bit terrifying for me at first and I prayed they wouldn’t get lost. However, once we settled in and made a fire in a ravine I settled down. The kids took their sleds down random hills. Of course, we brought hot chocolate and hand warmers. The adults chatted and snuggled in our blankets around the fire. Snacks were passed around. The peace and stillness of the forest was amazing.

11. Facetime call nights with the grandparents or family. I’m getting tired of so much stuff online, but it is always wonderful to see the smiling faces of the people we love.

12. Make and decorate sugar cookies. Yes, kids always add far too much icing… and if you give them anything else to decorate with (smarties, chocolate chips, sprinkles, etc) it gets WAY out of hand.

13. We went on a few outdoor walks, followed by hot chocolate and snacks of course.

14. Winter fireside night in our backyard. We actually started the fire with flint and steel! I felt like a true survivalist. And then I went inside to make hot chocolate with my electric kettle, because it’s too much work to boil water over a fire. LOL!

15. Ice cream sundae night! We had dozens of toppings to choose from and could each choose THREE ONLY because, let’s face it, my kids would’ve put on every topping if allowed. My favourite toppings are caramel, dark chocolate and sea salt!

16. Family movie night with popcorn and Nibs. We have now started doing a movie night each Friday and we take turns picking a movie. IF anyones complains about the choice, they miss their next turn to chose. Finally, no more arguing about what to watch!

17. Family snow ball fight. (Which ended in a real fight! Surprise, surprise.)

18. We played “Wink Murder” and “Mafia” which is quite morbid now that I think of it, but we have a great time guessing the murderer. It’s amazing how convincing some of our kids can be when they are claiming their “innocence”…

19. Decorate a gingerbread house. (More candy… there’s a theme here.)

20. We picked up pizza one night and dropped one off for our parents as well and had a quick front door visit.

21. Random acts of kindness night! We picked up 3 dozen donuts and delivered them to some of our friends/family we missed so we could see their faces for a bit. The kids came home so happy (but it was a lot of driving!)

22. Sleepover by the Christmas tree. Probably the best and worst thing ever. I wouldn’t recommend it if you like your rest. We fell asleep listening to Adventures in Odyssey together around midnight. In the middle of the night the couch felt like I was sleeping on rocks. My back still hurts. And we all woke up at 5am. This will most likely never happen again.

23. On Christmas Day, my husband led us in some Christmas Carols on his guitar and then we read the Christmas Story. Afterwards we ate our traditional family Christmas brunch and opened presents.

24. We had a fancy candle light dinner one night. Complete with a four course meal, the fancy table cloth, and mandatory table manners (yes, with a family that has four boys, table manners is a special event!)

25. I planned a Minute to Win It Game Night. Again lots of work to put together, but it was so much fun! A few of our favourite games include “Mad Dog” and “Dizzy Mummy”. We also laughed pretty hard at “Junk in the Trunk”.

 Yes, it’s a month into 2021 and we’re still mostly at home. However, we’ve been doing our best to be at peace with where we’re at.

Best of all: I have seen the joy returning to our family.

They have something each day to look forward to and for that I pray with a thankful heart: “Jesus, THANK YOU, for the gift of creativity. You know it doesn’t come naturally to me… Thank you for bringing joy back into our home.”

COVID-19 · Faith · Family · Homeschooling

Boredom and Projects to Stay Sane

It’s month two of “the end of the world” and I’ve been feeling all the ups and downs and everything in between.

Somedays I love the new snail pace of our world, the next days I hate it and feel like I’m stuck 20,000 leagues under the sea (or worse… reading about it!) Sorry to any fans of the classic. Sorry… that you have such terrible tastes in literature!! Haha.

Ahem.

So, I don’t mind being alone so much, what I hate is being alone with five kids and forgotten… which is precisely how many mothers have been feeling!

Yet, how dare I complain? There are so many elderly and sick people right now who haven’t had close human interaction for this whole time! I can hardly stand to think about it! However, my kids have been unusually out of sorts and at each others throats constantly. So after a week of yelling and threats and more grey hairs popping out than I care to mention, I decided enough was enough. After all, there’s only so much “VonTrapp” family in me! Sometimes I just need some peace and QUIET!!

I AM the mother over here, am I not? And five precious (out of sorts, whiny, grumpy, complaining) children are my responsibility, right? So therefore, how can I keep getting upset at them when it is really up to me to give them SOMETHING ELSE to do?!?

Enter my cries to God at 6am.

The prayer I kept repeating? “God, give me the gift of creativity!! Please!!” And so after a week of praying for ideas and scrounging the internet, the result was projects, idea boards and kids enjoying each other again. Whew!

So – anyone tempted to say I’m “super mom”- just, no. I’m not. I pray. I try. I copy others. And by some miracle, it sometimes works out!

First project: THE TABLE

I really do kick myself for not taking proper before pictures, but I am always so eager to start that I couldn’t possible bother to take five seconds to do so. But here was a picture of how our kitchen table looked a week ago:

And after taking turns sanding it (at first by hand, but then my incredibly generous neighbours saw how ridiculous we looked and borrowed me their power sander) and adding a few coats of varnish:

I was so pumped on how it turned out! It feels so much better wiping a table that actually looks clean when you’re done!

Second project: THE IDEA BOARD

Ok, so not every single thing we do has to be together. And after project number one, I desperately needed some “ME” time!! So this board was created at 6am after waking up in utter agony that I was just not creative enough to give the kids ideas on what to do. So I looked through idea books, googled “how to entertain kids” and desperately tried to remember things I loved to fill my hours up with as a kid! The result was an entire idea board for my kids when they come to me and say: “Mom. I’m bored.”

Voila! Now I just turn to them and ask: “Have you done everything on the board yet?”

Project 3: THE FIRE PIT

We’ve been burning stuff “country style” for four years. What I mean is this… instead of bringing furniture and boxes to the dump, we burn them. Shredder? What for? We burn paper. We burn old cat houses. We burn excess branches and leaves and grass… we burn it! The result was an old concrete slab with a pile full of ashes and soot so high that one could not see there was actually a pit underneath. (Again… no proper before picture. Sorry!)

People. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The sludge!!

It wasn’t ash anymore. Just hard, rock like substance, filled with nails, bits of metal, burnt pop cans and broken glass! I even found bones in it, presumably buried there by my dog… hopefully… either that or I really don’t want to know!

We sorted out the garbage, emptied the sludge and picked out the rocks. Then we swept it off and washed the rocks down, setting them out nicely in a circle. Finally we built a little fire and had a weiner roast.

Now, I know it’s not magazine worthy or Pinterest worthy or even internet worthy, but I just loved the country, rustic, relaxed feel of our new fire place. It was just so rewarding to set up!

Project 4: BLESS OTHERS

Two women in my cell group just had babies. Since I am 6 years past the itty-bitty clothes and nappies, I just had to go out and buy something for them! Baby shopping is my FAVOURITE!!

But wait! I thought. What about the “new” little older brother and sister? They are often missed in the excitement for baby. And how about the Mama’s?? So what started out as a simple baby gift, ended up being a family care package:

  1. An outfit and toy for the new one.
  2. A care package for mom: A chiller cup, facial mask and body scrub.
  3. A small, wrapped present for the older sibling.
  4. A gift card for the dad.

Other things we’ve been up to:

A pick up and walk down our road.

Outdoor water games and sandbox play.

My plants are almost ready to go in the garden.

A school community parade.

Oh, and my husband’s new purchase:

So that’s it folks! My world just keeps shrinking these days, but it doesn’t stop us from living. I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What have you been up to? Any projects or fun ideas keeping you afloat?

About Me · Family

My Computer Hates Me

It sits there, white screen of death, mocking me. Daring me to try fixing it again. Well not me, but my husband, who loves me ever so much as to put up with such requests.

It knows me well.

Coming from a Mennonite background, I just can’t bear the thought of throwing out anything that may just have a tiny bit of life still left in it. If I can sell it, yes, then I have no issue parting with my junk, because who doesn’t like to trade junk for cash?!? Or give it to someone in need, even better! Self help…sure!

But this hellish computer isn’t sellable. Or gift-able. It is garbage. A $2000 piece of iMac garbage.

It still looks brand new but the face itself hides the disaster within. I know full well that it fries it’s own hard drives within 6 months of replacing them.

The computer was a lemon when we got it. A toss away from a friend who wisely went on to a new and better relationship.

But being who I am. Could. Not. Chuck. Mr. FryMac.

My husband is a near genius when it comes to fixing technology. So with a hairdryer and some other tools he took the cursed thing apart and melted parts together, moved pieces around (I’m sure this description is precisely accurate by the way). And VOILA! I had me a brand new looking iMac.

A new hard drive was ordered and the thing worked beautifully for 2 full years. And then one day.

GONE!

All my writing, my saved files and documents!!! (thank goodness photos are in the “cloud”)

Most people would shrug and say at least I got two more years out of it… Not me!

I insisted that he fix it again (at which point he looked at me like I was from another plant and told me that it would just do this again)… to which I, knowing nothing about computers but fully believing in miracles, replied that surely Mr. FryMac would last three years this time.

So my ever patient husband shook his head and fixed it one more time telling me that he wouldn’t do it again. Oh and he recovered all my files. Because he’s amazing.

Now, four months later (practically to the day) everything’s gone.

He told me so….four short months later I’m in the same situation again and one would think I’d learnt my lesson already, but alas, the thought comes to me…maybe just one more time??

It’s either Mr. FryMac or back to good old Windows 7 **Shudder**

Well…which would you choose?

I’m leaning towards taking my chances with the FryMac.

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A Short Summer, A Long Bucket List and Three Half Finished Novels…

Summer is almost over.

Since when do I literally panic at those words?!? I have a real desire to move somewhere hot for September, October and November and live in denial that it will ever end.

Summer in Canada is ridiculously short, but like most things, that’s what makes it so irresistibly sweet. We bear through a bitter six months of winter – half hibernating, half shriveling away in the arctic air and then after being soaked in the rain for a month or two, we finally can enjoy SUMMER. Children burst out of their homes, not a minute to lose! Playgrounds which were eerily empty and abandoned for the frosty months come to life. White legs stampede to the beaches. We book our holidays months in advance, being sure to make the most of every single second.

For the past two years, my kids and I have made a summer bucket list. It’s nothing crazy, no big life changing events are on the list, but it’s about 25 activities long and therefore, always is a rush to complete.

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This time, however, it isn’t so much the weather change that I am dreading, or even failing to check off every box on our list; it’s the realization that summer is almost gone and with it another year of my failed goal: to finish my first novel.

Oh, by the way, I am writing a book.

Actually three.

Cue the awkward pause as people nod politely and change the subject…

And in many ways I don’t blame themPublishing a novel and making any sort of career out of it, never mind actually becoming a bestselling author is almost like a child claiming they’ll grow up to be a movie star…😏 “Mmmhmmm, sure sweetie, you do that!”

Yet I have had this desire from the moment I could write words on a page and form them into something resembling a sentence.

I remember writing my first story in grade 2. My peers wrote their opening words, the only ones that could possibly be used to start a story at that age: “Once upon a time…” And I knew even then that that didn’t cut it. Already, at age seven, I knew that wasn’t the way to write a book. Not a good one. I still remember my teacher’s surprise when she read my opening line: “The sun shone warmly on little Jessica’s face, her dark hair blowing in the summer breeze…”  I remember her reading it to the class, devouring my writing as if it were a rare exotic treat. I felt gifted, as if I were a prodigy of writing, sure to blow the rest of the world away with my cleverly thought out plots and well-structured sentences. Only to find out in my teens that I actually had a long way to go before I would ever publish my work.

But maybe that’s why I’ve always loved it. It’s challenging, and still relaxing for me. It takes effort, yet is in some ways rather effortless. Not to mention, it is also the only talent I ever remember being noticed for in school.

But the funny thing is, I’ve never finished a full novel.  I’ve had countless ideas, some that eventually fell rather flat, some that took off. Until, well… I got near the end.  Every single time I’ve come close to finishing, I give up.  Eventually, after years of sitting in an unopened file on my computer I click delete.

I don’t really know why. But it’s as if I fear what will happen if I finish. So I finish…then what?

Perhaps, it’s partly because I think it’s childish, this dream to write.  Because writing isn’t a real job, right? More like an eccentric hobby for the most lonely of introverts, those crazy ones, who’ve never quite given up their childish imagination.

But even scarier to me is the thought that keeps plaguing me: If I do in fact finish it, will anyone actually read my book? Will they have any interest? Or will I finally be publicly exposed for the wannabe writer that I really am? Should I just grow up already and let go of my childish dreams?

However this time, I am further than I’ve ever been before. In all three books. And even though I’ve been working on them for months (ok one of them I’ve been working on for years!), I feel like I actually really like my work. I am proud of the writing I’ve done. And I feel like others may like them as well.

So summer, please stay a little longer. Don’t hurry away. Let the days slow down and the workload pause. Let me finish the bucket list. Let me enjoy my kiddos. Let me finish my novels. Ok, maybe just one of them.

Because I really want to know how it ends, and, even more so, if others will enjoy reading it as much as I do.

Uncategorized

A Long Cold Winter

What do you do when you’re shut inside for almost half of the year? What do you do with five kiddos who have been shut inside for months on end?

We are loosing our minds here in this household. I know I can’t be the only one out there, right?!?

I know there are many of you reading this who have no clue what I’m talking about. But let me explain: This year in Manitoba, Canada, it has been a very, very long, cold winter. I don’t remember winter to be like this, but yet…it feels familiar because at about this time every year, the reality begins to set in – winter where I live is SO long.

For those of you from warmer climates, let me give you a picture: Winter in Manitoba officially only starts at the end of December, but it snows much, much sooner. By the end of October we usually  have snow. Now, November and December are very manageable months – the first snowfall brings excitement! The children jump into their snow gear to play in the sparkling, white snow. My excitement builds too, even though I’m turning 30 this year. My favourite snowfalls are when it’s close to 0°C and the snow clumps together in big beautiful clumps which seem to fall in slow motion from the sky. And the anticipation for Christmas usually stifles out any complaints about the weather. This is the favourite time of the winter season, it makes me happy to live here, full of joy that I live in a place that has such extreme seasons. It usually cools off after it snows, but it still feels quite manageable, maybe -15°C (approximately 4°F).

But then Christmas ends. The tree is packed up and put away. The cheerful decor is taken down. Enter January. The days feel so dark, so long, yet daylight hours are short by around 5 o’clock the sun sets. Those who work longer than 8 hour shifts often drive to and from work in the dark.

And then…the cold starts setting in. The cold that just doesn’t seem to leave no matter how cozy your house, no matter how warm your bed. The temperature drops to -20°C, then to -30°C, on really bad days it hits -45°C or lower (that’s -49 in Fahrenheit). The fun of the Holidays are gone, and screen time rules get stretched just a little bit longer.

By the time February hits, the children have completely lost their minds! They take longer to get dressed for the North Pole, then they actually stay out playing. Even after 15-20 minutes the youngest comes in with frost bitten cheeks. But winter isn’t over yet and I remind myself it will be another month before the days begin to warm and another two or three months until the snow completely melts.

Sigh.

Ok, this calls for some creativity. Let me think…The kids are tired of their books (they’ve been reading a chapter book a day for the last two weeks.) The activity books have all been filled up (except for the colouring pages, because what boy really wants to color?) The puzzles have been done. We’ve used our screen time and then some.

Well, what now? I need to think of something before someone loses an eye over here!

Ah, then I begin to have ideas, they’re messy, but they might just do the trick! Bring out the paper, the glue and the crafting supplies. Bring out the newspaper and globs of paint. It’s time to have a contest. It’s time to become world famous artists who are designing their own art gallery. Paintings, sculptures, artwork of all kind is welcomed…

“No, Emerson, you may not paint the kitty.”

He glues candy to a paper, but not before sneaking as many as he can into his cheeks before I stop him. Why not? We need the extra fat out here in this climate. Everyone works cheerfully side by side for the rest of the afternoon.

I was really having a bad day – but looking around this room of sticky hands and happy faces, my home, here in Snowy Manitoba, feels a little bit warmer.

And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.